Number of interviews with Michael Jordan: 0
Number of interviews with Nike: 0
Number of interviews with obscure sneaker fans: A lot
The question at the heart of this documentary is: "Are Air Jordans getting kids killed?" and the implied conclusion is yes. After watching the film, Zanna and I became involved in a torrid and at times acrimonious debate about the respective responsibility of corporations, economic systems and individual actors for the deaths. It was arcane, it was painful and it was ultimately fruitless because neither of us had much of a clue. But that's not to say it wasn't worthwhile.
The strange thing about the movie is that it chunters along for an hour as a straightforward retelling of the well-known rise and rise of the sneaker phenomenon known as Air Jordans, starting with their birth in the mid-80s when their fancy colours, banning from the NBA and appearance on the feet of the world's greatest athlete combined to make them one of the most iconic fashion pieces of the 20th century.
It isn't awful but it isn't inspiring either. It isn't even especially insightful, despite an astonishingly wide-ranging cast of talking heads, some of whom seem tangential at best.
After a while, you start to wonder what the point of it all is. But then, just as you start to yawn and look at your Apple Watch and wonder how many interviews with international sneaker freaks one documentary can support, it turns to the story of a young man murdered for his Air Jordans and to his family's anger and the previous hour is revealed as narrative scaffolding for what looks like it wants to be a protest film. The problem is it's spent so much time on the scaffolding there's not much time left for the protest.
Nevertheless, what looks for an hour as if it was going to be another boring paean to Jordan and the life and shoes that shaped a generation, finishes as a movie that made my wife and me ask each other hard questions about the systems, forces and organisations that shape our lives in ways we often don't see, possibly because we choose not to.
It wasn't a great movie but two weeks ago we watched a much worse one starring Russell Crowe and the only thing I thought about afterwards was how hungry I was.
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Apologies to documentary-maker Yemi Bamiro for ruining his film by watching the Netflix Michael Jordan series The Last Dance first. As someone with no particular interest in basketball, I had already reached my maximum capacity for Jordan content before switching on this film. By half-way, having previously heard much of the Air Jordan origin story, I was bored. But things took a turn later in the film: A sharp turn, an unexpected turn, a turn I could get invested in. Where The Last Dance felt like Jordan propaganda, One Man and his Shoes dared to criticise him.
Still, the turn was odd. It wasn't just a change of focus, it was a complete formal diversion. Up until the moment we're introduced to Dazie Williams, whose son Joshua Woods was murdered for his shoes, the documentary was made up of talking-head interviews and archive footage of basketball games and Air Jordans commercials. Then, all of a sudden, we're in an episode of 60 Minutes, in the family's home, looking at photos, being shown the scene of the crime, accompanying them to the trial, even hearing the director's voice for the first time.
While it makes for a much less cohesive film, the new documentary that starts 30 minutes before the end is much more interesting. I didn't need to hear anything else about how Michael Jordan was a phenomenon. I know that, I've seen Space Jam.
Unlike The Last Dance, which had Jordan's fingerprints all over it, he's notably absent here, as is Nike. With their culpability in question, the film does a fairly good job of holding their feet to the fire, nowhere more so than when the sister of Joshua Woods explains that Michael Jordan sent her a pair of new, unreleased Air Jordans after her brother had been murdered for his. She was too scared to wear them in public. Of all the ways he could have reached out, that one seems at best misguided.
In our post-film tete-a-tete, the one I'm sure Greg will describe as contentious but which was in fact very civil, I posited that perhaps it was a creative choice to have the film rapidly change course. Perhaps Bamiro intentionally lulled the viewer into believing that they knew what type of film they were watching only to pull the rug out from under them. I don't really believe that but I made a fairly good case for it and had Greg wanted to go there, I'm pretty sure I could've argued that point all the way to our lawyers' office. Unnecessary though: he didn't disagree.
One Man and His Shoes is available now exclusively on documentary streaming service DocPlay (docplay.com)